As Self-Immolations Near 100, Tibetans Reflect
As eight Tibetans have been sentenced for inciting self-immolations, The New York Times reports Tibetans are questioning the effect of these self-immolations. The number of Tibetans who have set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule has reached 99, and 83 have been confirmed to be fatal:
“What is forcing these self-immolations?” Lobsang Sangay, prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile, asked in an interview. “There is no freedom of speech. There is no form of political protest allowed in Tibet.”
“None of them have tried to harm anybody else,” said Penpa Tsering, the speaker of the Tibetan Parliament, which is based in Dharamsala, the Indian city that is host to the exiled Tibetan government. “None of the 99 people have tried to harm any Chinese.”
For more than a half century, India has been the primary host of exiled Tibetans, and many of the people who flocked to New Delhi came from special Tibetan villages elsewhere in the country. Lobsang Thai, 28, who came from Mundgod, a Tibetan village in the Indian state of Karnataka, said the self-immolations reflected the desperate situation in Tibet. “I don’t think it is about right or wrong,” he said. “That is the only thing we can do without hurting other people. That’s the best way to get the world’s attention.”
Tenzin Losec, 42, who is from Mainpat, a Tibetan village in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh, agreed. “This is very sad for us,” he said. “But people inside Tibet, they have no other way. They have no rights. Outside Tibet, we are trying to raise awareness around the world.”
Chinese state media has called the self-immolations in Gansu, Qinghai, and Sichuan provinces copy-cat suicides, from Xinhua:
Some foreign media later branded Tsekho a “Tibetan martyr” protesting the growing influence of Han Chinese in the Tibetan plateau. They also used his story as an excuse to attract international attention to the so-called “Tibet issue” and the ultimate pursuit of “Tibet independence,” a campaign spearheaded by the Tibetan government-in-exile, with the Dalai Lama as its spiritual leader.
“It is sheer destruction of humanity,” says the Tibetan official who asked not to be named. “Why did you goad 17- or 18-year-olds to self-immolate? Why didn’t you self-immolate?”
Urigtsang, a young Living Buddha of the Hezuo Monastery, says self-immolations go against Buddhist doctrine and Chinese law.
Monks should focus their attention on practicing Buddhism and cherishing life, and then they will have a good afterlife, he explains, adding that according to Buddhist scriptures, if someone ends his or her life by self-immolating, his or her soul can not be reincarnated.
“These prosecutions are utterly without credibility,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “The Chinese government seems to think it can stop self-immolation by punishing anyone who talks about it. But in pursuing these ‘incitement’ cases, the government compounds the tragedy of these suicide protests.”
According to Chinese state media reports of the trial, both men confessed to trying to “goad” or “incite” eight people to self-immolate since 2010, three of whom died, on instructions from “the Dalai Lama clique.” Those confessions were made public in December, after the men had been in detention for four months. According to state media, Lorang Konchok and Lorang Tsering did not present defenses and the lawyers assigned to them asked the court for leniency on the basis of their cooperation.
“Sentencing someone to death for allegedly inciting someone else to commit suicide is neither just nor respectful of the right to life,” said Richardson. “The ongoing prosecution of people linked with self-immolation appears to be about stifling dissent and laying blame on others for this tragedy. It is time for China to respond to the grievances and human rights violations that appear to be provoking this tragic form of protest.”
Meanwhile, Tibetans gather in grass-roots meetings to pray for the souls of the self-immolators, from IHT Rendezvous:
“The meetings are a traditional thing to do during the winter and are held daily in different villages, and last three days,” the witness said. They are known in Chinese as “fahui,” or dharma meetings, which are also Buddhist law meetings.
“People drive on motorbikes for long distances, 50 or 60 kilometers, to whichever village is holding a prayer meeting. It’s mostly adults, and they are anywhere between 16 and over 80 years old. As soon as they can drive a motorbike, they’ll go,” the person said.
“Their aim is for each meeting to have chanted ‘Om mani padme hum’ 100 million times. There’s no question that they regard the self-immolators as very great, and believe that with the help of their prayers, they will come back as powerful and blessed people,” said the person, who confessed to having reservations about the self-immolations.
With the Lunar New Year approaching, the prayer meetings will soon be scaled back, as farm work and animal husbandry resume. For now, though, the villagers are praying hard for the souls of the dead, with millions of mantras circulating in the thin air of the plateau.
See also Why People Set Themselves on Fire to Protest China, via CDT.